[Citizen Action Masthead]


Freedom of Information Act Documents


Public Comments

Press Releases

MWL Pits & Trenches with Known Inventory

Independent Reviews

Secret Documents

FOIA Documents

National Academy of Sciences conclusions re: DOE legacy waste sites


Confronted with the often contradictory statements made by repesentatives of Sandia National Labs (SNL), and the Department of Energy (DOE), in April 2000 Citizen Action filed a number of requests seeking additional information about the Mixed Waste Landfill (MWL) under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). This was done to verify statements made by representatives of Sandia National Labs and the U.S. Department of Energy (SNL/DOE) regarding waste buried at the landfill, and to request that classified documents be opened for citizen review. Approximately one year later we began to receive the first of these documents. The following is a summary of new information found after a review of about 3000 FOIA documents by members of Citizen Action. The information found in these FOIA documents is inconsistent with a number of statements made by SNL/DOE regarding the MWL.

Reference numbers following statements identify the specific FOIA document referred to, and are now available for public review at the U.S. Department of Energy Reading Room for the DOE Albuquerque Operations Office, Government Information Department, and the University of New Mexico Zimmerman Library.
Contact: Dan Barkley at 277-7180 or Rob Wiberg at 277-8960.

"from a cast of 3000"




"We have an excellent inventory of waste buried at the MWL." "Approximately 50,000 ft. of radioactive waste has been buried at the site."

(*note: latest estimate of total waste buried at the MWL = 100,000 cubic feet)
- SNL Working Draft, Sampling Plan 1992 (FOIA 92).
"An estimated 720,000 cubic ft. of waste has been buried on site during the 28-year operation." SNL ER Program Information Sheet, 1987 (FOIA 90).
"Accurate records before 1965 no longer exist and records from 1965 to 1976 are incomplete with regard to wastes disposed of in the MWL from 1960-1988. It should be noted that the files contain conflicting data. Researchers applied straight-line averages to waste disposed from 1959-1969, and estimated values for individual waste categories from 1970-1976." SNL ER Program, 1993, Phase 2 RFI Work Plan (FOIA 101).

"We know exactly what's in the landfill."








"We know exactly what's in the landfill."





"No box type trailers were buried at the MWL."

"All records prior to 1964 were destroyed as part of a records purge." Letter from Delacroix Davis, Jr. to James G. Steger, 1977, pg. 11 (FOIA 50).
"They have a feel for what is in there but the numbers are questionable… use vegetation as indicator. Succulent plants work best. Elevated concentrations [found] up to 5 km away." Interview with Donna Hartzel to "G.L., 1989 (FOIA 112)
"Most of the waste from this facility should be considered mixed wastes since the exact composition of the wastes is uncertain and radioactive chemicals as well as classified toxic materials can be expected." Memo to J.C. Vandermolen from G.J. Smith, SNL (FOIA 43)
"…other records suggest 600 cubic ft. of transuranic (TRU) wastes may have been buried at the MWL; waste records did not define contents of the TRU wastes before 1972, thus actual presence and quantities of these wastes cannot be accurately determined…"
SNL ER Program, 1993, Phase 2 RFI Work Plan (FOIA 101).
"… the most common metal disposed of at the MWL is lead. Also, barium, beryllium and chromium were probably disposed of. No records are available on the quantities of metals disposed of…" SNL ER Program Information Sheet FOIA, 1987 (FOIA 90).
"Chemical wastes include acids, solvents, trichloroehylene (TCE), carbon tetrachloride, and scintillation cocktails. Other wastes disposed of in the classified area include uranium, thorium, plutonium, enriched lithium, various (leaky and intact) sources, plutonium-contaminated wastes from various facilities, and plutonium-contaminated nuclear weapons test debris." Appendix D, SNL Site Health and Safety Plan Form, 1992 (FOIA 116).
"SP-4 contains what is purported to be reactor vessel plates. Very little is known about these plates, their origin, number, size or configuration." Memo from Jerry Peace/SNL to Mark Jackson, John Gould/DOE/KAO, 1997 (FOIA 22).
"Trailer was buried in Trench F, deeper than pictures show. Trailer was not a flatbed, but a box-type w/ doors, backed down in trench, unhooked and truck drove out." Interview with Fernando Dominguez, recalling information given to him by Charlie Bergland, 1998 (FOIA 5).

"Once the Cobalt-60 decays away the MWL will no longer be a problem."






"The MWL is just fine where it is and will never contaminate the ground water."

"… [MWL] received a variety of radioactive and potentially radioactive/hazardous chemical mixed wastes… Primary radionuclides are uranium and tritium, some plutonium and plutonium-contaminated material, cobalt-60, cesium-137, radioactive tracers, rad waste from operating and decommissioned Sandia Pulsed Reactors and Sandia Engineering Reactor as well as neutron-activated materials from weapons experiments at the Nevada Test Site. Radioactively contaminated oils and naphthalene scintillation vials…"
SNL ER Program Information Sheet FOIA, 1987 (FOIA 90).
"Possible mixed fission products went to dump. Lots of fuel in mountains stored. Only neutron activated material went to the dump. Lots, large amounts of Du."
Interview with former SNL employee H. Abbott, 19…?…(FOIA 1).

"Incompatible and unneutralized ignitable and reactive gases may have been placed in pits and trenches. Subsequent reactions may generate hazardous vapors which could penetrate soil caps and be released. Potential for release to air from pits 24-30 is high."

(*note: passive soil gas surveys conducted in 1993-94 found no large releases of hazardous vapors; however, active soil gas surveys in classified pits 24-30 have not been conducted.)

SNL ER Program Information Sheet FOIA, 1992 (FOIA 90).
"Records of disposal in pits from Nevada Test Site and South Pacific were examined and then disposed of at the MWL."
Interview with former SNL employee Bob Schwing, 1995 (FOIA 7).
"On the order of 1000s of rem/hr. [disposed of in MWL] on contact. Truckload after truckload was disposed of during decommissioning. Some elements of reactor exceeded 5000 rem/hr. Disposal of much material in pits - 100 rem/hr."
Interview with former SNL employee Max Moms regarding disposal of nuclear reactor materials in dump, 1998 (FOIA 12).

"Chemicals contaminated with radioactive materials were disposed of in the radioactive acid pit until about 1969. Contaminated chemicals included solvents, acids, trichloroethylene and carbon tetrachloride."
Interview with former SNL employee Frank Statzula (FOIA 58).

"Free liquids were never allowed to be dumped in the MWL."











"The MWL is just fine where it is and will never contaminate the ground water."

"Never, ever put liquids in pits or trenches classified items disposed of in the classified area, hard and fast … no explosives allowed."
Interview with George Tucker, former SNL employee, 1995 (FOIA 3).
"Radioactively contaminated waste water was discharged into one of the trenches during one month of 1967; the water could potentially have increased the migration rate of contaminants through the soil column toward the aquifer." SNL ER Program Information Sheet FOIA, 1987 (FOIA 90).
"Organic hazardous wastes [TCE, acids, carbon tetrachloride, and scintillation cocktails (toluene based) were disposed of in the Mixed Waste Landfill beginning in 1959 and continued until 1962 when the Chemical Waste Landfill was opened. Many of these were radioactively contaminated."
ER Program/Site Health and Safety Plan, 1992 (FOIA 116).
"Characteristics of contamination: disposal in unlined pits and trenches; contaminated oils, liquids and solvents; solid and liquid wastes." Remedial Action and D & D Scope Definition Worksheet, SNL, 1991 (FOIA 108).
"After 1975, SNL required liquid wastes to be solidified prior to disposal. Before this time unsolidified radioactive liquids, whether containerized or not, were disposed of in the MWL."
ER Program/Site Health and Safety Plan, 1992 (FOIA 115, 116).
"Two summers ago workers found 5 feet of water in nearby completed trench. Workers pumped water into the trench to the west."
Interview with Donna Hartzel to G.L., 1989 (FOIA 112).
"As you know, we were aware of the 271,500 gallons [of nuclear reactor coolant water] that was put into Trench 'D' in 1967. However, we were very surprised to find out that so much more water was applied so close to the MWL."
Memo from Mike Goodrich to Alva Parsons dated 1989 referring to 12.5 million gallons of additional reactor coolant water was dumped in a drain field near MWL and 6.5 million gallons dumped in Tech Area V. Total estimated coolant water dumped: 19.4 million gallons (FOIA 114).
"They would not have dumped nuclear oxide fuels in the MWL." "Nuclear oxide fuels were shipped to Sandia from reactors all over the world for simulated meltdown experiments. TA5 employees were confused as to why the cans were in pits 35/36 because the tests, as well as the canisters, were not considered classified. The obvious reason is that the landfill was scheduled for closure, so all spent fuel cans were hastily disposed of before closure date. There are no doubt additional cans in the landfill but their location is unknown." Memo from Jerry Peace/SNL to Mark Jackson, John Gould/DOE/KAO, 1997 (FOIA 22).
"Based on interviews with TA5 personnel here may be hazardous constituents in the canisters. There is little process knowledge, there have been no controls since it was generated …"
Memo from W.B. Cox, SNL to G.K. Laskar, DOE/KAO, 1997 (FOIA 21).
"The term, "Unk" means unknown; complete records of this breakdown were not begun until 1970. 1965 - Fission Product/Induced Activity: Unk. 1966 - Fission Product/Induced Activity: Unk. 1967 - Fission Product/Induced Activity: Unk. 1968 - Fission Product/Induced Activity: Unk. 1969 - Fission Product/Induced Activity: Unk. Total: Unk, Unk, Unk, Unk, Unk."
Memo from W.D. Burnett to R.R. Malone, Waste Management Fact Book, Memo (FOIA 34).
"The MWL can't be excavated as it poses a danger to workers." In 1984 estimates regarding clean up of the MWL were performed by George Tucker, SNL, and included: "air-supplied bubble suits, performed under an outer air support building with an inner metal Butler-type building with collapsible sides and HEPA filter ventilation. All waste would be shipped to the Nevada Test Site. Operation is assumed to require 'lots of manual labor.' " Total 1984 exhumation costs including equipment, labor and transportation: $129,690,000. Total 1989 exhumation costs including equipment, labor and transportation: $181,570,000. Memo to J.C. Vandermolen from G.J. Smith, SNL (FOIA 43).


FOIA - Freedom of Information Act
MWL - Mixed Waste Landfill
SNL - Sandia National Laboratories
DOE - Department of Energy
ER - Environmental Restoration
RFI - RCRA Facility Investigation
Du - depleted uranium
TCE - trichloroehylene
D & D - decontamination and decommissioning
SP - Sandia Pulse [Nuclear Reactor]
TA - Technical area
HEPA (filter) - high efficiency particulate air
km - kilometer
rem - Roentgen equivalent man (measurement of radioactivity)
rad- radioactive
Unk - Unknown